Kern County’s oil industry has learned the hard way that it may help to present a human face when debating regulations.
A local coalition funded by industry and followed on social media by nearly 11,000 people is calling on supporters to turn out for a Jan. 14 county Board of Supervisors meeting at which top state oil regulators will testify about the Newsom administration’s recent moves curtailing, and plans to permanently reduce, in-state production.
It will be Kern Citizens for Energy’s biggest public event since late 2015, when it attracted hundreds of mostly local oil field workers wearing stickers saying “I Am the Oil Industry” to a meeting where the board approved a landmark overhaul of the county’s oil regulations.
Oil leaders have said repeatedly at local conferences that the industry needs to share personal stories conveying the value of oil field work opportunities to families. Their idea is to counter what has been seen as effective messaging from groups pushing for stricter air and groundwater protections and aggressive action on climate change.
Industry groups support a variety of informational campaigns and organizations. But none has mustered bigger crowds in the heart of California oil production than KCE.
The group’s central organizer, Tracy Leach, owner of Bakersfield’s Providence Strategic Consulting, said she anticipates hundreds of KCE supporters attending the 2 p.m. hearing at the Board of Supervisors meeting at its chambers downtown.
“As Kern Citizens for Energy our focus is on engaging Kern County and ... keeping (Sacramento officials) aware of what we believe here and what we know to be true on our security and economy and way of life in California,” she said.
The coalition, started and supported by financial contributions from local oil companies, has grown during the past five years, Leach said, as it tells its members’ stories and offers information about the economic value and safety of petroleum production and how most of California’s oil supply comes from overseas.
The group’s membership, she said, has been energized by the Newsom administration’s stated plan to begin “managing the decline” of in-state oil production.
“We can see a lot of unhappiness with the governor and that’s translated into them getting more involved with us,” she said.
KCE could fit nicely with a plan the Board of Supervisors approved Dec. 10 to send a message to Sacramento about oil’s local importance to local employment and tax revenues.
The board voted unanimously to invite the oil industry to come make a public presentation about the impacts of new oil regulations. The resolution also called for organizing a coalition to tell Sacramento about the industry’s local importance and consider declaring an “economic crisis” over the state’s anti-oil actions.
Leach said county government has provided no direction to KCE.
County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop noted state officials have been invited, and unofficially agreed, to speak at the Jan. 14 meeting in Bakersfield. Representatives of the trade groups California Independent Petroleum Association and Western States Petroleum Association have also been invited to speak at the meeting, he said.
Local environmental justice advocates have said they plan to be there calling for greater health and safety protections in California oil production.
WSPA spokeswoman Kara Greene said the trade group will send representatives to the meeting. She added that the proceeding “is a great platform for us to talk about the hardworking men and women of the industry.”
CIPA spokeswoman Sabrina Lockhart noted the group has actively worked, like KCE, to promote the industry at public meetings, including at county-level government proceedings.
One group it supports is Californians for Energy Independence, a statewide coalition that has pushed back on efforts to restrict domestic oil production, Lockhart said. That group, along with California Energy Workers and Careers in Energy, is intended to do similar work as KCE.
“We also want to make sure that our workers have a way to share their concerns about these policies that would put their jobs at risk,” she said.